The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Is So Italian It Actually Hurts

For the first time since 1994, Alfa has a convertible in the States. It’s light, quick and easy on the eyes. But is the 4C Spider any good to drive?

Alfa Romeo

This is the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. It is an open-roof version of the ridiculously lightweight, belligerently turbocharged 4C Coupe, which ushered Alfa back into the U.S. market last year after a two-decade hiatus. Like that car, the Spider is handmade. It also uses the same carbon fiber monocoque, capable of maintaining virtually the same rigidity when a two-by-four-foot section is sawed out. So that’s exactly what Alfa did.

The result is an agile, waspy little machine. No carpeting, unassisted steering, exposed Le Mans-style pedal box, blatty exhaust (muffler optional). The stinger is a transverse, mid-mounted, 1,750 cc inline four-cylinder. Two camshafts, one turbocharger, direct-injection and variable valve timing, good for 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive. Stout.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Alfa Romeo

The small numbers are a bigger deal. The Spider weighs 2,487 pounds, just 22 more than the Coupe, which flies in the face of cause-and-effect. Behold the glory of a carbon passenger compartment, where the bloat typically associated with convertibles is neutralized. Have your cake, eat it too, and don’t go up a pants size. Maybe pick up smoking while you’re at it.

Calling the Spider a convertible is a bit disingenuous. It’s a targa, really, and the hardtop doesn’t stow. Better go for the canvas roof, a nifty boomerang-shaped piece that kneads up like an oversize motorcycling tool roll. It’ll fit in the rear trunk, a duffel bag-capacity cubby behind the engine. (Note: The 4C’s front trunk is sealed. No cargo room, just service access. Also, that “frunk” is the greatest portmanteau in the history of cars and possibly portmanteaus. Good name for a band. Or a baby.)

Alfa Romeo 4c Spider
Alfa Romeo

Right. So the Alfa 4C Spider is turbocharged, lightweight and rear-drive. All smashing. The issue is the Coupe’s issues are still here, namely that it’s a mixed bag to drive. Take, for example, the engine. Loads of torque, cool skittering turbo noises. But the exhaust note is flat, and the little four-banger runs out of chuff at high revs. Or the steering, pleasantly analog yet oddly weighted. And then there’s the automatic gearbox. When I’m king, whoever’s behind this dry-clutch six-speed will be first against the wall. Hey, at least the brakes are good.

And it sure is pretty. Just look at the thing. Everybody else does. Then they ask if it’s a Ferrari, which is understandable because Ferrari is Italy’s singing, dancing, indelible mascot. Alfa Romeo, on the other hand, is Italy’s unchecked id, never far from monumental brilliance or crippling bankruptcy. But the 4C Spider doesn’t feel wonderful and impulsive, just lazy.

Being mercilessly pounded by wind and noise is a motoring rite, passed down from the cockpits of Alfa’s innumerable Grand Prix heroes.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Alfa Romeo

So why did I kinda dig it?

Simple: I chose to. Suspension of disbelief. Willful ignorance. Rose-tinted Ray-Bans. Climb into that mindset and every flaw, no matter how egregious, just seems like a quirk. Turbo lag is plucky, almost endearing. Panel gaps are fingerprints, proof of humanity. Being mercilessly pounded by wind and noise is a motoring rite, passed down from the cockpits of Alfa’s innumerable Grand Prix heroes. If you’re a driver, the sort that will caw over chassis balance and chase lap times, the 4C will frustrate. But if you’re a romantic, someone able to justify massive shortcomings for the sake of satisfaction, there’s a nugget here. And if you’re going to commit, go full Spider. An open cockpit helps you ignore that the car isn’t particularly good, and just get lost in the moment.

2016 ALFA ROMEO 4C SPIDER
PRICE (BASE): $55,195
POWERTAIN: 1.75-liter turbo I-4; 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque; RWD; 6-speed dual-clutch auto
WEIGHT: 2,500 lbs
0-62 MPH: 4.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 160 mph
ON SALE: Now